2002 Security Industry Forum: Feb. 3-5, Tampa, Fla.

Security Industry Association (SIA) Executive Director Richard Chace (left) thanks former FBI Director Louis Freeh for speaking to attendees at the 2002 Security Industry Forum.

New technology and the new era of security were the cornerstone topics as roughly 80 attendees—mostly suppliers, integrators, dealers and security directors—gathered about 25 miles outside of Tampa, Fla., for the Security Industry Association’s (SIA) 2002 Security Industry Forum at the Westin Innisbrook Hotel and Resort. Overall, the conference, subtitled “The Digital Revolution and Convergence of Technologies,” featured eight speaker sessions, five terrorism group discussions and presentations, a speech by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, and a golf tournament.

The proceedings got off to a rousing start as keynote speaker Elliot Masie of The Masie Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., drove salient points home in entertaining and personable fashion. Among other things, he touched on how Sept. 11 changed the industry and how our industry needs to change. “The most profound thing about 9/11 was that it changed the ‘security’ brand,” he says. “It has entered the consciousness of the mainstream, and people now want their security integrated. The time is now for the security industry.” However, he cautioned that a lot of electronic security companies are technology-oriented and, because of this, they need to learn how to more effectively communicate in the terms of the businesses world.

“This Isn’t Your Father’s Central Station” was a panel session that offered an excellent overview of where the industry has come from, where it is today and where it may be heading. David Avritt, president of SentryNet in Pensacola, Fla., pointed out that, although the growth period for central stations was 1992-1997 and the industry will soon enter a decline period, there are still plenty of opportunities on the horizon for enterprising companies. “We have spent all of our time trying to hold onto our business rather than grow or expand it,” he says. “Now, we have to ask ourselves, ‘What value-added services can we add?” Patrick Devereaux, senior vice president of Emergency 24 in Chicago believes those services include the Internet, remote video, access control, GPS and other device monitoring. “You can’t lose sight of your markets and you must closely monitor your competition and mid-level managers,” advises Devereaux. “You must serve as an extension of the companies you serve and make a sustained commitment to quality.”

Freeh, who is currently the senior vice chairman of MBNA Corp., addressed the conference following an attendee dinner. Spicing up his presentation with anecdotes about his eight-year stint as head of the FBI, Freeh spoke about the heightened awareness of security following Sept. 11 and the need for cooperative efforts. “I believe biometrics are going to be huge and that they will be widely integrated into other security portfolios,” he says. “These [security] problems have always been here, but, since Sept. 11, people have the awareness and resolve to address them.” He also lamented the fact that terrorists can encrypt information on computers that is virtually impervious to hacking. Therefore, he urges software manufacturers make the encryption keys available to the government via court orders. In closing, he told those assembled: “You are becoming a key player in the whole national security and public safety world. The government cannot do it alone, they need private industry and corporate security companies.”

Two of the most interesting aspects of the event took place at lunchtime. One day featured a presentation by Tampa Police Department Detective Bill Todd on the facial-recognition system deployed in the city’s Centro Ybor area, while the other day featured five breakout sessions on terrorism. Todd detailed the 36-camera system, which includes the use of facial-recognition software during weekends when crowds swell to six figures, and how the public became much more accepting of it post-Sept. 11. The breakout discussions solicited and compiled challenges and solutions for terrorism in environments such as airports, retail establishments and special events. The results were then quickly transformed into PowerPoint presentations that were shown later in the day. Among their many findings, the groups universally agreed that there is a need for legislation making it easier for users to obtain security systems, some form of biometrics needs to be incorporated into most access control applications, and that uniform standards must be established.

Although the aforementioned sessions were worthwhile, the balance of the conference could have been stronger as 2001’s version in San Diego was more successful. It helped that the end users who spoke at the previous event were from high-profile companies like Target, Kodak and Amgen. Another problem with the latest incarnation was that some of the material covered was either too esoteric or downright inappropriate for the audience. In addition, the venue choice was a bit puzzling. Although Tampa in of itself is not necessarily a poor location and the weather was amenable, someplace closer to the airport, downtown, the beaches, something, would have been much more convenient and productive. Finally, the proceedings could benefit from more ample networking opportunities. The sessions tended to be crammed together and even the lunches were stacked with activities.

Next year’s conference is scheduled for Phoenix.

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